A US politician has been forced to resign his position as a Southern Baptist pastor after attending a celebration event for the first grand wizard of the Klu Klux Klan.
Rep. Will Dismukes refused to step down as an Alabama state legislator despite receiving widespread condemnation for attending an event to mark the birthday of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who held the top leadership position in the Klan between 1867 and 1869.
Dismukes attended the event at a private property near Selma, Alabama, on the same day that the body of the late civil rights leader John Lewis arrived at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery after being taken across Selma's Edmund Pettus bridge — where Lewis was severely beaten as he marched for racial equality back in 1965.
“Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration,” Dismukes, 30, wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday, which has since been removed.
A number of local pastors released a statement condemning Dismukes' comments.
"We are saddened and grieved to learn of the recent Facebook post by State Representative Will Dismukes who also serves as a bivocational pastor,” they said. “In the wake of tremendous controversy, we reaffirm our opposition to any kind of racism.”
Dismukes, who was a pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, met with his elders on Wednesday, at which time they voted to accept his resignation.
“It was a tough decision in accepting his resignation,” Mel Johnson of the Autauga Baptist Association told the Washington Post, noting that church leaders "understand the confusion and the struggle and what took place and how folks can have mixed feelings on both sides of the table.” He also noted that many in the church did not know about the controversy until they were informed by the leadership.
He called Dismukes' involvement in the event a “lapse in judgment.”
“Perception is reality in the minds of many people,” he said. “We work to shun the very appearance of evil. I’m not saying he had evil intent.”
Speaking to a local TV station in the wake of the controversy, Dismukes said:
“I guess, with the anti-Southern sentiment and all, and the things that we have going on in the world today, there’s a lot of people that are seeming to be more and more offended.
“We live in a time where we literally are going through cancel culture from all different areas and people are even more sensitive on different issues and different subjects. This was just one of those times that it didn’t quite go the way I expected, and I never intended to bring hurt to anyone, especially my own family with everything that’s been said.”
In a statement on the matter, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Russell Moore, said:
“Racism is a grave sin against God and against neighbour. Neo-confederate and other white supremacist groups are not only morally wrong, but are also in contradiction to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"The enslavement and torture of human beings made in the image of God, and the domestic terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan, are as far removed from the explicit witness of Scripture as imaginable and should be utterly repudiated at every level.”